FBI agents caught up with Robert Durst the day before the finale of The Jinx
(NEW ORLEANS) — Millionaire murder suspect Robert Durst is a flight risk and a danger to others, a judge decided Monday after considering what FBI agents found in his hotel room: an elaborate disguise and other escape tools fit for a spy movie.
Durst was arrested at the J.W. Marriott hotel in New Orleans, where he had registered under the name Everette Ward and was lying low while HBO aired the final chapters of his life story.
FBI agents recovered his passport and birth certificate, an apparently fake Texas ID, stacks of $100 bills, bags of marijuana, a .38-caliber revolver, a map folded to show Louisiana and Cuba, and a flesh-toned latex mask with salt-and-pepper hair.
“This was not a mask for Halloween;” it was a disguise extending down to the chest, Assistant District Attorney Mark Burton said.
Durst stopped using his cellphone after HBO aired the next-to-last episode of the “The Jinx,” its six-part documentary about him, and bought but apparently never activated a new cellphone, Burton added.
Magistrate Harry Cantrell ordered Durst held without bond on weapons charges in Louisiana, and set a preliminary hearing for April 2, delaying his transfer to California to face murder charges.
The 71-year-old millionaire sat beside his lawyers with his hands shackled to his sides in padded cuffs. He has been in a prison’s mental health unit for nearly a week. Jail officials have called him a suicide risk.
In Vermont on Monday, authorities said they were investigating the link between Durst and a Middlebury College student who disappeared in 1971.
An estranged member of the wealthy New York real estate family that runs 1 World Trade Center, Durst is accused of killing Susan Berman in 2000 before she could speak with former New York prosecutor Jeanine Pirro’s investigators about the disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen, in 1982.
FBI agents caught up with Durst the day before HBO’s finale, after Los Angeles police said he had used a hotel phone to check his email. FBI agents found him in the lobby, asked for his ID, and escorted him to his room, where he told them he had his passport, testified Jim O’Herne, an Orleans Parish district attorney investigator.
An FBI agent listed everything Durst had in the room to protect both the agency and Durst, who was arrested on the murder warrant later that evening, O’Herne said.
O’Herne said he was able to wake up a judge about 1:30 or 2:30 a.m. the next morning to sign a search warrant for Los Angeles police.
Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said the timing of the agent’s inventory proves the search was illegal. “That’s an improper search,” he told the judge.
Burton said the legality of the arrest was outside the scope of Monday’s hearing.
Outside court, DeGuerin said he never expected the magistrate to set bond.
“We were able to get a lot of information we didn’t have before,” DeGuerin said. “I think all in all we had a very good day.”
Durst waived extradition from New Orleans but is being held while prosecutors decide whether to ask a grand jury to bring formal weapons charges.
None of Durst’s previous convictions was serious enough to merit the felon-in-possession charge, his attorneys said in court papers.
The show also described Durst’s role in the death of a 71-year-old neighbor in Texas whose dismembered body was found floating in Galveston Bay in 2001. Durst claimed self-defense and was acquitted of murder.
Investigators in Vermont have been aware for several years of a connection between 18-year-old Middlebury College student Lynne Schulze and Durst, who operated the All Good Things health food store in the town, the Middlebury Police Department said in a statement Monday.
Schulze disappeared in 1971. Her case was reopened in 1992 and has continuously generated leads, police said. They did not release any additional details, citing the ongoing investigation.
During Monday’s hearing in New Orleans, DeGuerin asked Pirro, now a Fox News Channel host, be removed from the courtroom as a potential witness. He said he wanted to question her about the truth or falsity of public statements she has made.
“She’s here because she’s been participating in the dogging of Mr. Durst for years,” he said.
But Cantrell ruled that Pirro would not testify in his court that day.
Pirro then returned to the courtroom with a satisfied smile, and said later that any requests for comment would have to go through her employer.